Festival Focus – The Edmonton Heritage Festival
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Edmonton has a lot of festivals in the summer. One festival I try to go to each year is The Edmonton Heritage Festival (sometimes referred to locally as Heritage Days). It’s held on the August long weekend (which in Alberta is known as Heritage weekend, hence the festival name). Heritage weekend takes place on the first Saturday, Sunday and Monday in August.
What Is The Edmonton Heritage Festival?
It is a festival that celebrates the various cultures of people who live in Edmonton. The Edmonton Heritage Festival takes place at Hawrelak Park, located in the North Saskatchewan River Valley. 2019 is the 46th year of the festival. There are 71 pavilions representing over 100 different countries from around the world. The Edmonton Heritage Festival has food and drinks that you buy with a ticket system, similar to a Taste of Edmonton. There are goods and arts and crafts at each pavilion that you can buy as well. Some countries even have cultural performances (like dancing, live music, etc.) too.
The Edmonton Heritage Festival also has an Indigenous pavilion where you can learn about the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. And new for this year is a Nashville pavilion, since Nashville and Edmonton are sister cities. The US hasn’t been at The Edmonton Heritage Festival before, so that’s pretty cool.
Planning Your Visit
The Edmonton Heritage Festival runs from 10 am to 9 pm on Saturday and Sunday, and from 10 am to 8 pm on Monday. It’s free to visit, though you’ll want to bring some cash to buy food and drink tickets. You can also buy these in advance online or at any Servus Credit Union around Edmonton. Unlike Taste of Edmonton (where you only get a few bites of food), dishes at The Edmonton Heritage Festival can be full-size meals. Items range from 1 ticket (for something small like a cookie) to 15 tickets for a combo meal. Food tickets are $1 each and come in a minimum sheet of 20. If you’re going with other people you can always split dishes to try more food. You may want to bring cash to buy any goods or treats (pavilions may not accept debit or credit). This year I’m gonna stop by the Ireland pavilion and get some bags of cheese and onion Taytos (a brand of Irish potato crisps/chips).
The Edmonton Heritage Festival is also a major fundraiser for the Edmonton Food Bank. Make sure to bring along some non-perishable items or a cash donation. After your visit to the festival, you can also donate any leftover food tickets you may have. The festival itself is free to enter (it’s completely up to you on what you want to buy like food and drink tickets), so the Food Bank donation is in lieu of a paid admission. I know aside from some fundraisers in December for the holidays, this is one of the biggest fundraisers for the Edmonton Food Bank (which does not receive any government funding; they operate by donations and volunteers).
What to Bring
This is an outdoor festival, and Hawrelak Park is quite big so you need to be prepared. Make sure you are wearing good walking shoes. Bring a bag or backpack with sunscreen, bug spray, and a full water bottle. You can buy water at the festival, but bringing your own saves money and the environment. There are also places to refill your water bottle onsite. It’s also a good idea to have a raincoat and/or umbrella on hand (it’s been very rainy this summer). An umbrella is also great if it’s hot out because it’ll give you some sun protection. While there is shade inside the pavilions there is no air conditioning; if it’s hot outside it’ll be hot inside.
Getting to The Edmonton Heritage Festival
An important thing to know about The Edmonton Heritage Festival is there is no parking on-site at Hawrelak Park. Instead, there are Park and Ride buses around the city (cost is $6 round-trip). You can also take the Light Rail Transit (LRT) to Health/Sciences station or South Campus station and do park and ride from there. You can see a map of the Park and Ride locations here. Some of these places have allotted parking for vehicles, and some do not. If you need to drive to a park and ride location make sure it is one that has parking for vehicles. Transit (like the LRT or bus) that you may need to take to a Park and Ride location is not free. Cash fare on Edmonton Transit is $3.50 for a single ride, or you can buy booklets of ten tickets for $26.25. There’s also a day pass for $9.75, but that’s only worth it if you’re using transit more than three times. Regular Edmonton Transit tickets (including cash fare and the day pass) are not valid for park and ride.
If you’re staying or live close to Hawrelak Park you could always walk or bike down, or take a taxi. Apparently this year there’s a boat dock, so you could canoe into the festival. For most people, however, it’ll be easiest to do Park and Ride to the festival. The Park and Ride line ups can be quite long, particularly around noon and later. It’s best to plan to get to the festival when it first opens. Plus then it’s not as hot or crowded as later on in the day.
Arriving At The Edmonton Heritage Festival
When you arrive at The Edmonton Heritage Festival make a note of the Park and Ride bus locations, and which one you’ll need to take to get back home. You don’t want to be heading to Meadowlark if you need to get to Lewis Estates (they’re opposite ends of the city).
As well be sure to stop by The Edmonton Food Bank hampers to drop off your non-perishable food donations. There are also volunteers to take the cash donations too. At the entrance, you’ll also be able to buy food tickets (if you haven’t pre-bought them) and get a festival map.
For 2019 there are 73 Pavilions in total, but the countries are not in any kind of alphabetical or geographical order. For example pavilion 1 is Jamaica, 2 is Palestine, and 3 is Ukraine. These countries aren’t anywhere near each other geographically or alphabetically. It’s also worth noting the entrance for the festival is by pavilions 34 and 35. You might not be starting at pavilion 1, but as long as you have a few hours you should be able to visit all the pavilions.
Tips for The Edmonton Heritage Festival
Aside from arriving when the festival first opens, wearing good walking shoes, and sharing tickets it’s also worth checking out the food menu in advance. You may find there are some food items and dishes common in several pavilions, and some will cost more than others. One thing several pavilions feature is green onion cakes. This is a staple festival food in Edmonton. It’s a savoury pancake made with green onions, and it’s fried and delicious. There’s an interesting history about how green onion cakes got so popular in Edmonton that you can read about here. Anyway if you look at the tickets in advance you can make sure you’re not overpaying for your green onion cakes (or roti, or watermelon or baklava, etc.).
Lines can also be very long, which is why it’s good to bring a buddy or two. That way one person can be in Hong Kong getting some green onion cakes and the other can be next door at the Ecuador/El Salvador pavilion getting empanadas.
What I Dislike About The Edmonton Heritage Festival
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. One thing I dislike about The Edmonton Heritage Festival is it’s not long enough. Since it’s only for a long weekend the festival is only 3 days. There are some years where I’m working for the whole long weekend and can’t go. This year I was lucky enough to get the Monday off, but I wish this festival was 5 or even 7 days long. Even if it was an extra day it would help, because 3 days is not enough. Also visiting all the pavilions makes me wish that they had a contest where you could win a trip to one of the countries featured at The Edmonton Heritage Festival. I could always use more contests in my life.
What I Like About The Edmonton Heritage Festival
As someone who loves to travel and learn about the world The Edmonton Heritage Festival is one of my favourite local festivals. It gets me excited to travel and visit new places. Walking around I start thinking I should book a trip to Thailand or Greece. Or I should go back to Japan or The Netherlands? As much as I love to travel, I don’t get to travel all the time (stupid needing money to travel). There are places I might not get to visit anytime soon (maybe even ever). Will I get to visit Somalia anytime soon? Or Eritrea? Or even somewhere like Australia (which is far and can be expensive to visit)? Hopefully, one day, but if I can’t go to these places right away (for whatever reason) I get to learn about them at The Edmonton Heritage Festival.
Plus if you’re meeting people at Heritage Days it’s fun to say or text things like, “I’m in Japan right now, but I can meet you in Iran in 20 minutes.”
In general, I love The Edmonton Heritage Festival. If I have one of the days off during the festival (or even part of a day off) I’ll try to make it down. It’s one of my favourite Edmonton summer festivals. If you’re in Edmonton on the August long weekend I highly encourage you to check out The Edmonton Heritage Festival.
Things To Know
The Edmonton Heritage Festival takes place on the August long weekend (first Saturday, Sunday and Monday in August). It’s held at Sir William Hawrelak Park. There is no on-site parking so be sure to plan how to get to the festival in advance. Check out a map of the Park and Ride locations here.
If you are visiting Edmonton and looking for a hotel you can book one here.
Have You Been To The Edmonton Heritage Festival?